How will COP26 affect us all?

COP26 is in Glasgow this week. If you hail from that part of the world you will have mixed emotions about the marvellous opportunity for the whole of Scotland to be the show-case location for this event, but also the terrible traffic congestion you’ll be experiencing!

Should our sectors be following it closely?

After 6 months or more of headlines-and-hype, COP26 Glasgow is finally happening (Sunday 31st October – 12th November). So what is it and should we be following it closely? We may have no choice if the news media get their way, but seriously, as stated in the UK Government’s helpful document “COP26 explained”, this really is something that affects us all.

The Conference is actually called the 26th UN Climate Change Conference, but the headline writers prefer to call it the “Global warming” conference. That is, at heart, the essence of it and there will be a lot of focus on carbon sequestration via habitat management (expanding forests, less habitat disruption, etc.) and carbon-capture technologies. Also, accelerating the development of renewable energy sources as alternatives to coal/oil/gas. But that’s just the start! A lot of attention will be devoted to making more efficient use of the energy we produce and how we cope with changing weather patterns.

A huge focus on the sectors we represent

Flood Protection, Restoration & Structural Waterproofing

Unfortunately, even the optimists are forecasting that the overall disruption to our global weather patterns will continue, possibly worsen. Even if COP26 results in mid-century global temperatures being no more than 1.0 – 1.5 degrees higher than the 20th century benchmark, we should expect the frequency and severity of floods (and other extreme weather events) to increase. Perhaps we should stop thinking about such things being ‘extreme’ at all?

We have lived for centuries accepting that properties sitting on flood plains may be prone to exceptional damage every so often (especially near major rivers) but now, there seems to be a worrying trend for severe flash-flooding in almost any urban area simply due to a failure of local rainwater drainage systems when exposed to huge rainfall volumes. Roads become rivers very quickly and low-lying parts of properties can be inundated due to surface run-off.

Structural Waterproofing systems in basements can be compromised by these events and we have called for a need to consider additional measures to deal with this threat (Blog: ‘Are we seeing a change in mindset when it comes to flooding and waterproofing design?’). But these systems can also be part of the solution to the wider problem of managing surface water inundation at ground floor level.

Damp Control and Ventilation

The increased risk of floods and heightened water tables may also impact on the enquiries we receive regarding general damp problems (especially after buildings have ‘dried out’). But relating to COP26 is the concern that the drive for insulating homes may not take sufficient account of the corresponding need to ensure adequate ventilation. This is a problematic area now and we hope to work with all the relevant agencies to ensure retro-fit insulation does not inadvertently produce homes prone to condensation and mould!

The Wood for Good campaign has a focus on COP26 at the moment as there are strong benefits to be gained from using more timber (sustainably sourced) in construction. Of course, we know softwood timbers can be protected by preservation processes in the supply chain, but it could be argued that a changing climate requires even stricter standards of protection? Some are forecasting a future risk from termites in the UK so our Timber Treatment members may find they have to respond?

Invasive Weed Control

Finally, what about Invasive Weed Control? We have just had the Kunming declaration arising out of COP15 in China (Biodiversity and Sustainability) in which it is clearly stated that invasive species are one of the main threats to habitats and biological diversity worldwide!

Add to this the threat to natural plant communities coming from climate change (we await to see what the COP26 declaration looks like) and you have a perfect storm of risk factors! In the meantime the work our members do in this sector is a crucial element of habitat protection and restoration.

The take home message…

We hope the COP26 delegates realise that when they pop-out from their late-night summits they need to ask for a fish supper not “fish and chips”. If so, they will enjoy one of the culinary delicacies of the world and take home (geddit?) memories they will cherish for many years to come.

More seriously and more relevant to members, COP26 has the potential to seriously impact on all our sectors. Decisions made in the next fortnight could influence trillions of dollars/pounds of investment over the next 50 years and some of that needs to be directed at buildings! We urge all our members and anyone with an interest in the property industry to watch and listen carefully.

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